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Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2006 Aug;16(4):445-50. Epub 2006 Jul 5.

Functional organization and plasticity in the adult rat barrel cortex: moving out-of-the-box.

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Neurobiology and Behavior, Biomedical Engineering, and the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine, 92697-4550, USA.


Recent advances in functional imaging and neuronal recording techniques demonstrate that the spatial spread and amplitude of whisker functional representation in the somatosensory cortex of the adult rodent is extensive, but subject to modulations. One of the strongest modulators is naturalistic whisker use. In the cortices of rodents that have been transferred from their home cage to live for an extensive period in a naturalistic habitat, there is suppression of evoked neuronal responses accompanied by contraction and sharpening of receptive fields, and contraction and weakening of whisker functional representations. These unexpected characteristics also describe modulations of whisker functional representations in the cortex of a freely exploring rodent during short whisker-based explorations. These and related findings suggest that cortical modulations and plasticity could follow a 'less is more' strategy and, therefore, highlight how different cortical strategies could be utilized for different behavioral demands.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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